Saturday, May 5, 2007

Hear, Oh Israel!

Hear, Oh Israel! In case the country is reading or listening, here are some closing impressions before I leave. But this will not be my last posting to this blog; expect to see "ex-post" postings when I return and can upload images to this blog, with commentary (of course!). Without further ado, some of my favorite (and not so favorite) things in Israel:

People watching: Hooray! Such variety of colors (hair dye that is reddish/pinkish/orange is highly popular), dress styles and ways of being. A veritable parade!
Getting information from people: Oy vey! Israel seems to have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. If Person A doesn't ask for very specific information from Person B, it is unlikely that Person B will tell Person A anything other than what has been literally asked. As a tourist, who may not know exactly what information she might need, and therefore may not phrase the question in a way that would extract useful advice (whereas the person staffing the tourist resort area might know, from having answered such questions a million times before), this stubbornness or inability to anticipate the needs of another person is kind of annoying. Make that really annoying.

Public art: Hooray! Many traffic rotaries are adorned with colorful scupltures and public utility boxes are canvases for painters. In the Negev desert, realistic metal silhouettes of local animals can be seen along the road.
Public litter: Oy vey! You don't need to be as spotless as Switzerland but a bit cleaner would be nice. Would it kill you to make sure that your trash makes it into the barrel?

Dual flush toilets: Hooray! It is very sane and ecologically sound to offer bathroom goers the option of a gentle flush (for #1) or a rip roaring cascade (for #2). Why waste water for a wee bit of pee? America, take note.
Tight squeeze in the loo: Oy vey! I am not a large person, but in many a public restroom it has been a challenge to even enter the stall when door opens inward and grazes the toilet itself. If I'm wearing a backpack, it requires acrobatic maneuvering to not fall into or over the toilet while closing the door behind me. And you can forget about entering with luggage. When traveling alone, figuring out how and when to pee becomes an exercise in strategic planning.

Diversity of terrain: Hooray! It is nothing short of amazing that tiny Israel is home to rolling hills and lush green vineyards, dusty deserts, Mediterranean coastline, and the Dead Sea.
Diversity of transliterations: Oy vey! How many ways can we spell the name of the Red Sea resort? There's Eilat (most common), Elat, Eylat. And what about that holy city up in the Galilee? Tiberias, Tiveria, Tverya. If a person doesn't read Hebrew, it can be confusing to navigate between street signs (randomly translated or transliterated) and a map, whose spellings might differ entirely and/or omit the street in question. Not to mention that Tel Aviv transliterates its street signs differently than Jerusalem does, in some cases.

Getting a deal: Hooray! Sometimes getting a good deal or a lower price is just a question away, if one has the chutzpah to ask and the stomache to enter into negotiations.
Turning every transaction into a summit meeting: Oy vey! The downside to getting a deal is that many Israelis, at many times, think they are exceptional and should not have to pay what everyone else pays (or stand in line, or wait their turn, etc). This attitude can transform what could have been a simple exchange into a heated discussion, often leaving neither party feeling satisfied and creating stress for the people who have to listen. One person cutting in line can piss off dozens, generating more anger that gets unleashed on the next vendor/teller/etc. So, Israel, is this really worth it? You preach savlanut (patience) yet don't practice it. [full disclosure: In the spirit of "When in Rome, do as the Romans do", I've marched to the head of a postal line myself to save time, yet I have to say I didn't feel good about it afterward]

To be continued as I continue to digest my experiences....right now I'm in the swank pre-departure lounge at Ben Gurion airport (for part of this trip I am traveling in style!). The free Internet time is about to expire plus I want to get a snack....


Anonymous said...

Oy, you're such an "American in... (well, used to be Paris)"... :-))

I. said...

I don't normally publish anonymous comments, but I let this one through because it allows me to say: Hooray! I am an American. Nothing wrong with that. As it so happens, when I travel, I tend to blend in and am frequently mistaken for a native or for a European. Nothing wrong with that, either. But back to the post - sadly, many Israelis I got to know also lamented some of the things that appeared in the "oy" section of my posting.